For the Atlanta Hawks, another week begins with back-to-back games, the first being tonight in Orlando. For this team, it’s been a season of streaks so far, wherein anything they’ve done once, they’ve done at least twice before going the other way. In other words, if they came off a loss and won the next game, they’ve won at least two in a row before losing again. Will that trend continue or break tonight?
The Damien Effect
If you didn’t know it before, let me tell you now. Damien Wilkins is no joke on the defensive end. While he played limited minutes and the Hawks couldn’t pull out the victory, it was refreshing to see an Atlanta guard giving an all out effort on the perimeter, and doing so effectively. How about that? Sorry, but I have to say it again – couldn’t the Hawks have used this more than Etan Thomas? Well, you know what they say…better late than never, and at least this move comes around 20 games into the season, rather than halfway through.
Hold the phone, though. If you think Wilkins will be around simply as a 5 to 7 minute defensive specialist, think again. While his career shooting percentages are nothing to write home about, he can still provide some offense here and there. Few things are better coming off the bench than a guy who can play two positions, provide very good defense, and hit a few shots. Watch for Wilkins to demonstrate this as he learns Drew’s offense, and as long as the Hawks keep sharing the ball. It also gives the Hawks a good modified three guard lineup off the bench if Drew finds the matchups to be beneficial (Jamal-PG, Mo-SG, Wilkins-SG/SF being one example). This might even help matters when Marvin Williams is practicing his magic act. Perhaps the Hawks would do well to heed this endorsement:
It’s just one game, but Al is sold: “I love that. I love his intensity. I love his toughness on defense. It’s something we need. I’m saying it now: I hope we keep him and he’s with us for the long run. A guy like that can be helpful.”
The Enigma that is Marvin
After four straight good games, Marvin Williams has fallen by the wayside again, disappearing against the Miami Heat. Is this the new consistency? Nobody can expect a guy to have a good game every game, but sometimes it’s just the worst timing in the world. It’s not like he does it on purpose, but what gives? Part of the issue may be that Marvin simply does not have what it takes to impose his will on the game from any particular aspect, on a night-to-night basis. While his defense is the most consistent and effective part of his game most of the time, the team simply needs more than decent-to-good defense sometimes. In fact, now more than ever (since Joe Johnson is out), the Hawks need for Marvin to be better in at least one area, if not two. Without a good night on the boards or in scoring, the Hawks are forced to go to the not-yet-quite-healthy Mo Evans for points and rebounds, or are otherwise leaning too heavily on Jamal Crawford, who will take on the task whether it’s a good idea or not. If you think that thought is off base, then read between these last lines. Either way, the point remains – the Hawks will need more from Marvin against the better teams, and tonight is no exception. Can he deliver?
HAWKS VS. MAGIC
Last time these two teams met, it wasn’t anywhere near a blowout. In fact, the Hawks nearly pulled the victory off, sans some turnovers and missed shots down the final stretch. Some say Orlando simply didn’t shoot well and had to find other ways to grind out the win. Others say the Hawks competed and made the Magic guard them for once. Regardless of what theory you have, the real story may have been who was missing in that game. The Magic didn’t have starting point guard Jameer Nelson, and the Hawks didn’t small forwards Marvin Williams and Mo Evans. Which guy(s) makes a bigger difference for each team? It will be hard to tell, as the Hawks come into this game as having drawn the short straw, what with leading scorer Joe Johnson unavailable.
What’s bad about this is the fact that Joe had a good game against the Magic last time, shooting over 50% and posting 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. Outside of his efforts, Al Horford’s efficient offense, and Jamal’s free throws, the Hawks struggled on offense. What will they do without Joe? Jamal will no doubt have a big hand in things, but the Hawks will need more from other sources. Mike Bibby’s outside shooting has been a real boost for Atlanta on most nights, and Josh Smith will need to be on as well. Can the Hawks get Al Horford going early and run the offense through him, or will it have to be somebody else?
If you ask me, the biggest challenge for the Hawks won’t be Dwight Howard. We probably already know how that is going to unfold. Drew will likely start Twin (Jason Collins) at center, and Dwight will get his. No, the problem will be Jameer Nelson. This guy is driving the Magic bus as much an anyone, and he’s proving himself to be one of the better point guards in a conference that boasts some pretty good younger ones at the position. Averaging 15 points and 7 assists per game is good, but the scary part is Nelson’s shooting. The Magic guard is hitting 49% from the field overall, and nails 40.7% from three point range. If the Hawks can’t clamp down on Jameer Nelson, look for an early blowout, as he’ll feed Dwight and those nasty perimeter shooters on a regular basis once the defense tries collapsing on him. If you don’t believe that it unfolds this way, ask the Chicago Bulls, who endured a 29-point loss at the hands of the Magic several days ago. At the center of it all was none other than Nelson, who shot a blistering 8 of 11 from the field, enroute to a 24 point, 9 assist outing.
1) How do the Hawks stop Jameer Nelson?
2) How do the Hawks make the Magic guard them, and whom do they run the offense through?
3) Can Damien Wilkins make a big impact in this game?
4) Who steps up for the Hawks in this game?